Carroll County's seven-member Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved site plans yesterday for a communications tower in the northeast part of the county, signaling a major step forward in filling a long-standing gap in its emergency services.
"I think this is a milestone as to improving life safety in Carroll County," said Scott Campbell, acting administrator of support services for the county's Office of Public Safety. "This is a critically important site for Carroll County volunteer emergency services. ... It's truly a matter of life and death. I can't imagine having an inability to communicate with firefighters."
The plans, which call for a 330-foot steel lattice-frame tower in Lineboro, showed an aerial view of the proposed site in the middle of a heavily wooded area. The tower will be built on 6 acres owned by Donald J. and Catherine L. Fasca Sr. on the east side of Alesia-Lineboro Road, 700 feet south of Crossroad Schoolhouse Road.
The county signed an option to purchase the Fasca property for $100,000 in May last year.
"This project has gone on for several years," said county Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "It seems like a miracle we found a site everyone can agree on."
The tower, budgeted by the county among its capital improvements at $900,000, will penetrate hard-to-reach areas. The tower is expected to improve communications for the Lineboro, Manchester and Hampstead fire companies.
Planning and zoning board members questioned county and state staffers about radio coverage, forest cutting, lighting and the tower's height.
While the tower will vastly improve communications, there is no such thing as 100 percent radio coverage, said Thomas H. Miller, director of communications for the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems.
"We have a serious coverage problem in Lineboro," Miller said. "Medical personnel can't communicate with physicians, so they have to fall back on protocols. They're limited in that scope.
"The height of the tower is perfect for this site," he said. "Four or five calls out of a hundred will have difficulty, which is a high standard for radio signals."
He added that an 18-foot antennae, one strobe light and nighttime red flashing lights will be affixed atop the tower so low-flying planes can easily spot it. The lights should not bother neighboring residents, he said.
County officials assured the board that only 1.9 acres of wooded area would be cut for the site, in accordance with forest conservation guidelines.
Campbell said the Baltimore engineering and architectural firm of Whitney, Bailey, Cox & Magnani LLC submitted the site plans for the tower and the 2,900-foot access road by the Aug. 2 deadline. Construction is expected to take 90 days, although Campbell said more coordination is required among the participating agencies to prepare the site for groundbreaking. The county expects to complete the project by the end of the year.
Only one resident voiced an objection to the tower's location.
The search for a site began in July 1997, when the county switched to an 800-megahertz 911 emergency communications system, which already uses seven towers to transmit radio messages throughout the county.
But the towers had one flaw: their signals could not reach low-lying and hilly areas near Lineboro. Firefighters and police instead had to rely on the previous low-band radio system.
County officials worked in conjunction with state agencies to find a suitable site.
In September, Carroll commissioners voted to buy the necessary easement for the project. They entered into a $47,200 option to buy the rights to use 7 acres for a road and a "fall zone" around the tower that will be built on property adjacent to the Fasca land.